Rebels full of optimism as season gets under way


For two hours Friday night, UNLV coach Dave Rice directed his players through a high-speed practice full of fast breaks and dunks.

The basketball calendar begins in mid-October and ends sometime in early April, and for most teams, this is when the optimism of a new season finally erases the disappointing memories of the previous one. The months in between can seem slow to pass.

"Every day during the summer, you're waiting for the next season to come," junior forward Mike Moser said. "It's right around the corner. It's going to be an exciting season."

The Rebels open a season surrounded by hype and high expectations on Nov. 12.

"It seems like a long time since we lost to Colorado in the NCAAs," Rice said after the first of 27 practice days leading up to the first game against Northern Arizona at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Rice's first season concluded with a 26-9 record and a first-round NCAA Tournament loss.

This will be the final shot for senior guard Anthony Marshall.

"Last year, we thought we had a good team and we came up short," Marshall said. "I don't want to look back on this year and regret anything. For me, it's kind of bittersweet because it's my last first day of practice."

For a large part of UNLV's 15-man roster, the season's first practice at the Mendenhall Center was a new experience. Marshall, Moser, seniors Justin Hawkins and Quintrell Thomas and junior Carlos Lopez are the five returning scholarship players.

"A lot of new faces," Rice said.

Anthony Bennett, Katin Reinhardt, Savon Goodman, Demetris Morant and Daquan Cook form a highly touted freshman class that joins transfers Khem Birch, Bryce Dejean-Jones and Roscoe Smith.

Marshall said the Rebels' talent level is the highest he has seen in four years.

"We all like to compete and push one another. This is where it starts. You compete in practice, and how you practice is how you play," he said. "You really can't come in here expecting to take any days off. Any time you do, you're going to get exposed."

One indication of the hype UNLV is attracting can be found on CBSSports.com, where the Rebels are projected to be a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament and picked to reach the Final Four by two members of a panel of five analysts.

All five analysts tabbed UNLV as the favorite to win the Mountain West Conference.

"It's nice to hear those things, but we're not really paying attention to it," Marshall said. "It's kind of surreal. Everything has happened so fast, and I'm happy to be a part of it."

After wrapping up an exhibition tour to Canada on Aug. 21 with a 4-0 record, the Rebels went through almost two months of strength and conditioning sessions and limited team workouts. But their time in obscurity was brief, and the spotlight is returning.

"We want our program to be nationally significant," Rice said. "We have high expectations, as well."

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.

 

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